Yesterday I said goodbye to my five cuddlefish and left them playing in the safe shallows, decommissioned Echo Base (so named for the calls of the Reefbacks that echoed across the nearby grassy plateau) and finally jetted off planet 4546B, after a playthrough that lasted a shade under 100 hours.
What a great experience. I had such a blast with this game. I can't recall a game that has obsessed me in quite the same way, at least not since I was a kid (quite a long time ago now). As the title suggests, on more than one night after playing I dreamed of zipping over sunken mountains in my Seamoth, and weaving through creepvine forests. Subnautica just hit so many sweet spots for me: the vivid underwater world, the imaginative creature design, the combination of exploration and resource gathering, the sense of a wider, deeper mystery being uncovered. The whole experience just consumed me. I found myself gibbering excitedly to my (very patient and long-suffering) girlfriend about the bioreactor I'd just built, or the fact that my water filtration machine meant I no longer had to endure a panicked swim around the safe shallows, hunting for bladderfish.
So many memorable moments. Climbing onto the Aurora's rear thruster, turning around and finding a reaper towering in the air behind me (a glitch, I think, but kind of awesome). Discovering Jellyshroom Cave and the long-abandoned Degasi base (and then being grabbed by a crabsnake). Stumbling across alien architecture and thinking 'What the hell is this?' Driving my newly-minted Cyclops into the dunes and shouting 'Come on then motherfuckers" and learning very quickly that my sexy new submarine was definitely not able to stand up to reaper attacks. Seeing the mushroom forest for the first time. Swimming into the jaws of the huge skull in the lost river. Playing with my cuddlefish. Building a nuclear reactor and feeling absurdly proud of myself. And the sequence with the Sea Emperor and her eggs. My god, the feels.
Now that I'm done, I feel bereft. So it's just as well that I've got Below Zero to look forward to.
Thanks, developers, for an amazing game. Here's some stuff that I experienced and things that occurred to me while playing that I hope might be of use to you in both improving the game and in your future efforts (please note I'm playing on Xbox One). Because you are going to make many more Subnautica games, right?
- I found the learning curve pretty brutal. I'm fine with games that don't hold your hand, but a little more help early on would have been very much appreciated. I kept dying from thirst and wasn't sure what to do about that. Likewise (and this could just be me being stupid) but it took me an age to realise I needed a scanner to scan the items in the crates in order to get blueprints. I think in these two regards, and in some others, it would be helpful to get a little more advice and guidance. There's so much to take in early on, and it's a little overwhelming.
- Rendering and landscape popping in – I'm not going to go on about this, it's a well documented problem. It's worst in the seamoth, and I also found that while the game was saving, it at times just stopped loading the landscape entirely. For the most part it's ok, but it does really affect your ability to immerse yourself in the game.
- Speaking of loading and saving times, these were pretty bad. You get used to the long loading times, but sometimes the game would take five minutes to save, and if the landscape wasn't being rendered it leads to five minutes of sitting there waiting, which is just wasted time.
- The PDA's photo storage function is busted – deleted photos keep reappearing, which means you're permanently over the limit and have to keep deleting old photos over and over again to make space.
- I encountered issues with trying to place a bed in a multipurpose room built above another one. I guess it was clashing with something in the room below.
- The graphical glitching in the locker room on the Aurora has been fixed, but the corridor leading to it (when you're heading back to the front of the ship) still glitches badly.
- It would be amazing if lockers would auto-sort items, so items of the same type are grouped together.
- Reapers seem able to clip through landscape and also out of the water.
- There were times when I swapped my nearly-empty oxygen tank for a new one (which was full) and my oxygen metre didn't refresh. Not sure if this is an error or deliberate.
- Travelling between portals often took a really long time. Staring at a swirling green screen for two or three minutes isn't fun.
- Certain things could be more intuitive – maybe I was just being slow, but it took me a while to figure out how to move the Cyclops up and down. It took me a while to find the upgrade panel on the Seamoth, and to figure out how to activate the perimeter defence system. Similarly, I didn't understand how the sonar worked (I guess I didn't realise you have to select the icon and then activate it) and so it was only very late in the game when I realised that the Really Super Helpful Sonar I had on my Cyclops was also available on my Seamoth. Doh. (Ironically, I think the game was way more fun and scary without the ability to see where everything was.) I also found basebuilding, at first, to be a pain. Certain rooms/segments wouldn't fit together and I had no idea why. It also took me a long time to realise you could rotate the pieces.
- Speaking of rotating pieces, trying to rotate items in order to place them in the habitat (stuff like the caps, aurora model, etc) was a pain. The item would rotate a little bit and then it would switch to your next inventory item. I had to keep doing it in little bursts to get it how I wanted it. Seemed weirdly over-fiddly.
- I never really understood the bioreactor. I'd put matter in it and it would struggle to get above 1 or 2 power, then I'd go to sleep and wake up and have full power. I guess it accumulated really slowly, but more guidance on this would have really helped.
- Can the Cyclops turn a little faster? It seems to turn really slowly. It would also be really helpful, going forwards, to have a sub that can carry both the seamoth and the prawn.
- Could just be me, but the creature decoys seemed totally useless. In addition, when you shot them from the Cyclops I had no idea where they ended up. Do they go behind you? In front? To the side?
- This is more a gameplay/exploration thing, but it'd be cool if the more dangerous areas of the game held some sort of reward. The dunes, mountains and crash zones are obviously teaming with reapers, but you don't really have to go into those areas unless you want to. Which is fine, but I never really found much in them that justified the risk (save for cuddlefish eggs). I get that it makes sense for the main story to not push you towards these areas too much, but it would be cool if there were more unique items in them to make it worth the risk to explore them.
- In future games I'd love to be able to customise the Cyclops more – like being able to add hull strength at the expense of speed, and vice versa, add a torpedo system instead of the decoy tube, etc.
- Scanning some fauna was . . .really hard. For many creatures you literally had to scan their head, and it's pretty hard when they're small and twisting away from you (or if they're a reaper and trying to eat you). I feel this could be a little more forgiving.
- Lastly, I would have killed for the ability to create a map. Or for there to have been a map that was gradually uncovered as you explored. It was only when I was done with the main story that I looked up maps online and realised how many areas I'd missed. It doesn't make sense that you have to go online to find a map.
Ok, I think that's it. Thanks to anyone who actually read this far, and to the developers who made such an awesome game. You guys rock.
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